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Klein happy to be healthy and back on the field

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NCAA FCS Football 2021: Western Illinois v North Dakota OCT 23

Elijah Klein has battled hip injuries during his career at UND. The former two-sport standout is healthy as the season begins. 

Elijah Klein is happy to be healthy, finally.

After two injury-plagued seasons at the University of North Dakota, the former two-sport star at Mandan is back on the field.

"It's been hard. Your whole life you're healthy, out there playing, then something like this happens and it's not fun," Klein said. "Not that I took it for granted, but that definitely won't ever happen for sure."

Klein, an all-state wide receiver and basketball player for the Braves in high school, has not played in a game yet for the Fighting Hawks. Klein underwent two hip surgeries to remove a pair of bone spurs which were tearing the labrum causing significant pain.

The injury began to cause issues his senior year in high school, but he still had nine touchdown receptions, one fewer than his junior campaign.

After long hours of rehab, Klein said he started to feel like himself again during spring ball and as training camp began last week declared himself 100 percent.

"It hindered what I was able to do physically. I just couldn't do what I wanted to do," Klein said. "Surgery ended up being the best route."

Klein was one of the more intriguing prospects in the state coming out of high school in 2020. At 6-foot-7 with serious leaping ability, few can go up in the air with Klein, when he's right.

Finally healthy, he's looking forward to seeing how he stacks up against D-I defensive backs.

"That's been the frustrating part, just not being able to have a chance to compete," he said. "At least now physically I'm in a position to be able to show what I can do. That's what I'm looking forward to the most. 

"This season I'm just hoping to be able to contribute any way possible."

Klein is one of several local players on the UND roster. 

Trae Steckler, like Klein a former standout basketball player at Mandan, played in 10 games at tight end last season for UND.

The Fighting Hawks' roster features four former Century Patriots in junior defensive end Tanner Thorsness, redshirt freshman Noah Schaffer (tight end) and Hunter Harvey (offensive line) and incoming recruit Lucas Schweigert, a defensive lineman.

After winning three FCS championship rings at North Dakota State, Bartholomew Ogbu transferred to UND and has two years of eligibility remaining. The defensive end from Shiloh Christian will wear number 47 for the Fighting Hawks. He wore 97 for the Bison.

Nick Kupfer, who starred in football, basketball and track at Legacy High, is in his second season at UND as a wide receiver. 

"It's a good feeling to have so many guys from North Dakota," Klein said. "It shows the level of talent we have, and it gives you a sense of home when there are so many guys that you know on the team."

Between redshirting his freshman year, and the COVID year granted all athletes by the NCAA, Klein could still potentially have four years still to play.

Not being able to get on the field did not prevent from Klein excelling in the classroom. He was named to the Missouri Valley Football Conference 2021-22 Honor Roll.

Despite a difficult couple of years physically, Klein remains upbeat about the future and confident he chose the right sport for college.

"Being healthy finally, that's the biggest thing," he said. "It's good to be able to dedicate all of your time to one craft. I miss basketball, but at the same time, of course football was the right decision."

Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or david.selvig@bismarcktribune.com

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